harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Buffy Reviewed: Season 3's "Helpless"


BTVS, Season 03, Episode 12


Writer: David Fury
DIR: James A. Contner

Blurb: As Buffy’s eighteenth birthday approaches she loses her Slayer powers just as she must go up against a crazed vampire who has kidnapped her mother.

Scene 01: We open on a room with candles lit, a blanket spread out a floor, all of the hallmarks of a romantic light dinner arrayed on it.

Suddenly though, there is a pained grunt of effort and Buffy comes tumbling to the floor with a solid looking male body coming down on top of her. Fortunately for Buffy she was able to get her knees bent in order to flip the male off of her. Just as fortunately, this isn’t a romantic dinner gone awry with the vicious attack of a bad guy, but is only her and Angel continuing their “we’re not together, except in this torturous ‘we want to be but can’t way’ way” and they’re just sparring.

Buffy ends up straddling Angel’s hips and stakes him through the heart with a bread roll.

Things turn awkward, of course, when a moment that should be turning to sex can’t be… because… y’know, that whole curse deal. Because BOTH of them should know better, and yet neither one of them seems capable of just not doing this to each other.

Buffy says she should go, because Giles awaits. Angel asks a bit too overly eagerly if she’ll be by that weekend, but she tells him about her father coming into town to take her out to the ice show as per a birthday tradition.

Commentary: And despite my personal annoyance with Angel and Buffy doing the “not sex, but let’s torture ourselves by setting ourselves up for a moment and then not being able to follow through” as well as my irritation of the illogic of Angel’s curse ever actually being invoked again when he surely could not lose himself in the moment enough to ever actually not worry about the curse and ergo have it not be activated… SMG and DB are rocking this scene. It’s cutesy and angsty in the right way and they’re adorable.

So, Buffy and Angel are annoying me with all of this but Sarah and David aren’t.

Scene 02: Buffy has now met up with Giles, where he’s forcing her to look deeply into crystals in order to identify them. She’s glib and he’s unusually brisk and annoyed with her for not taking “vibrational crystal identification” more seriously.

Buffy puts it off to feeling a need to get out on patrol because Faith has gone off on another one of her unannounced walkabouts. Giles points out how Faith isn’t interested in being properly trained and so he looks to Buffy to do it correctly, and she snarks that she hates being the “good one”.

Giles asks her why she’s so anxious, and she… fondling a phallic crystal… suddenly drops it on the table self-consciously and tells Rupert she just “has some energy to burn”. He tells her that she’ll get to do so in due time, but for the moment he needs her to concentrate.

[And this scene is wonderfully acted, because going into it, even before we know what is going on, Anthony gives off this slightly-off feeling to his interactions with Sarah. It feels somehow ‘not right’ without it being obvious or overdone.]

He places a large, blue crystal in front of her and asks her to focus on the flaw in the center of the crystal. She does so, but with a deep breath of annoyance.

Scene 03: Later, she’s finally gotten out on patrol to burn off the excess sexual energy pent up. An unfortunate vampire hanging out at the children’s playground is the unlucky participant in her vigorous beat down.

She snarks at him a bit, but just as she’s going to give her clever bon mot and give him his stake to the heart, she is overcome with a wave of dizziness.

Our vampire reacts and knocked Buffy away, then grabs her and tosses her painfully onto a picnic table where she rolls off and hits the ground. Before she can recover, Vampire is on top of her. He grabs her wrist and turns the stake on herself and starts leaning his weight on her arms to drive her own stake through her!

He snarks at her this time, telling her to let him know if he isn’t doing this staking thing correctly. She stares up at him with a look of genuine fright.

Commentary: Excellent scene. I loved the way that Buffy really is put in danger from what was to be a run of the mill vampire and how quickly things turned on her. I liked the signal that something is going on with Buffy that we’ll have to figure out through this episode. And I loved the terrorized face Sarah gives us before we cut to black.

This was actually scary, despite us knowing obvs Buffy can’t be killed off by a stake through the heart from Random-o-Vamp.

CREDITS BE INTERRUPTING … oh, you stupid credits, not now!

Scene 04: Coming back from Crediting, Buffy head butts Random-o-Vamp in the face and is able to roll/toss him off of her. She scrambles for her stake. As she rolls back over onto her back, our Vampire leaps on top of her again, and ends up staking himself - the dork.

Buffy is left to pull herself up, with definite “what the hell, that was too close” face.

Scene 05: The next morning, Buffy is in the library … during school hours… throwing knives. As you do.

Giles comes in and comments that she’s gotten an early start. She complains that something is wrong. When Giles looks, we all see that Buffy’s throwing has been everywhere BUT the center of the target.

Rupert suggests she stop throwing pointed objects in the library for the moment. Buffy exclaims about almost getting herself staked the night before, and is freaked. Giles suggests that she’s probably getting the flu, which she freaks about because she absolutely cannot cancel her ice skating show date with her dad and he suggests that she just take it easy for the next two days and get rest.

She insists that she just needs to train a bit more, but her next thrown knife breaks something glassy. She tells Giles she’s gone and rushes out while he thanks her. Rupert seems very casual about the loss of her Slayer dexterity.

Scene 06: Later at lunch, Xan and Oz are listening to Buffy’s plans for that weekend. Willow is also there and she shares that she once loved an ice skating show which then turned into her puking on Woodstock.

Xan joshes with Buffy over her being a bit old for an ice show thingy, and she tells him that she knows it’s a big, girly thing but she loves it. Oz offers that ice is very awesome… being water, but not.

Xan questions the Big 18 Party, but Buffy says she’s not going to do the party thing on account of the people dying the last time.

Scene 07: Later that evening, we’re in the kitchen with Joyce. We see a vase of delivered flowers with a balloon, but also… a pair of ice show tickets have been attached to the delivered flowers.

It falls to Joyce to tell Buffy that Hank had to cancel due to work obligations. Joyce offers to skip a day of work and take her to the show, but Buffy demurs and rushes to her room. Clearly the “ice show” wasn’t the real point of her being excited for this birthday tradition, and she’s heart broken now that her dad put work above spending a few hours with her.

Joyce watches helplessly as Buffy rushes away trying not to cry.

Scene 08: Meanwhile, over at an abandoned boarding house called the Sunnydale Arms…

A sinister pair of hands is cementing bricks up around the windows in a room already much too dark. The hands belong to an ancestor of Malcolm Reed. And with him is … OH, DEAR… Mr. Travers!

[Uh… it’s possible we don’t know who Mr. Travers is yet; I forget now. But we retrospectively know who he is, so I’m justified in having my stomach drop a little on seeing him.]

They’re joined by Mr. Hobson, who Travers questions about their timeline. Travers tells him that once he and Blair [Reed] are done, they can gets some rest, but they’re to sleep in shifts. The two men look with worry on an ominous padlocked crate.

Travers intones that the Slayer’s preparation is nearly complete.

[I think this is our first meeting with Travers, isn’t it? I can tell you that this line by itself is enough for me to instantly dislike him.]

Scene 09: In the library, Buffy is trying in a round-about way to entice Giles into maybe taking her to the ice show in her father’s place, but he’s far too preoccupied with un-boxing [Why isn’t unboxing a word, Spellcheck?] more crystals.

With Giles not paying much attention, she does a little harder hinting, but he keeps bringing her attention to the flaw in the focusing crystal. She bristles a little but does as he asks. We focus on the big blue crystal flaw, and focus…

And when we see Buffy again, she’s gone completely blank face. Hey! What is this Giles?!

Rupert questions Buffy, but instead of being disturbed by her sudden trance, he reaches down and picks up his briefcase. From this he pulls out a small box which we find out has a syringe in it!!

Hey! What are you doing?!

Giles draws a cocktail with the syringe and sticks Buffy in the arm with it… thus explaining her sudden lack of power, and pointing to Rupert helping Travers do something underhanded! Against his Slayer! [NNOOOOOO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!]

Once he’s put his dastardly drugs away, he ‘casually’ waves in front of the crystal and Buffy starts back to awareness, none the wiser. Buffy thinks she zoned out because of the “flu bug” and Giles suggests that she call it a night and get some rest.

Commentary: Yeah. It was more than a little traumatic to watch Giles put that needle into Buffy’s arm and despite how this episode ends, it took probably the rest of the season before I could put my trust in him again. I kept waiting for another shoe to drop.

Scene 10: The following day, Buffy is walking with Willow and asking how Amy is doing. Wills goes on with a grin about how happy she is with her exercise wheel, but Buffy was kinda more interested in how it was going turning her back from a rat. On that score, things aren’t so well. Willow hasn’t found a counter spell that she can work to undo what Amy did to herself.

Across the way, they notice Cordelia being hassled by some jerk jock who she stood up the night before. He’s physically aggressive with her, and she complains that she doesn’t know what the big deal is, since everybody knows not to take her flirting seriously. Especially when she’s dealing with rebound-syndrome and all.

She tries to walk away, but he gets grabby and startles her. Buffy tries to intervene, but when she grabs his arm to yank him off of Cordy, he doesn’t budge. Even more scary, for Buffy, when he gives her a “who do you think you are” look and shoves her, she goes flying over a bench and onto the ground.

And then… oh, dear… and then Cordelia drives off the jerk far more effectively than Buffy!

Commentary: Uh. Okay, I understand the point of this scene, but I really, really didn’t like it. This is one of those scenes where our characters don’t respond like you’d assume they should. In this case, after Pete and Debbie, you’d think that Cordy would be a lot more unnerved by Bohunk’s shoving her against the tree and threatening her. And you’d think that Bohunk would be seriously threatened with expulsion and the police by Buffy, Cordelia, Willow, anybody else walking by who remembers that Debbie was murdered by her psychopathic boyfriend… but no, you’d be wrong.

Apparently, even mundane evil like murderous boyfriends [let’s just put aside the Mr. Hyde thing for the sake of argument] and domestic violence in high schools can be forgotten as easily as PCP gangs with deformed faces.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if this scene was pre-Beauty and the Beasts, but now it’s jarring.

Scene 11: In the hallway, Rupert is heading toward the library… or a file room..? Whatever. The point is Buffy waylays him about being swatted away by some jock twit and being saved by Cordy of all people.

She’s freaked out, but Giles isn’t acting as concerned as she’d like. He promises her though, that they’ll get to the bottom of it.

She’s left to wonder if she can handle not being the Slayer anymore.

Commentary: I know that Faith isn’t really the point of this episode, but it would’ve been a nice place for Buffy to bring up Faith as the officially called Slayer and to wonder if she’s being stripped of her powers because of that whole death thing… although, obvs, the question would be why now, rather than then… but still, you’d think Kendra’s/Faith’s calling would be brought up when Buffy is suddenly losing all of her Chosen One powers.

Scene 12: Sometime later in the afternoon, Giles is sitting with Travers over tea. Quentin is trying to comfort Rupert that the Tento di Cruciamentum has been carried out for centuries. Travers describes it as a Rite of Passage when a Slayer turns eighteen, while Rupert opines it’s a barbaric act of cruelty.

We now get the low down on why Buffy’s powers are being stripped and why his particular abandoned house is having the windows boarded up. Buffy is to be lured here, while she’s powerless, to face a foe that she’ll only be able to win against with cunning and guile.

Quentin tells Rupert that the Slayer has to have more than just physical prowess when she goes into battle. She has to have self-reliance [Hmmm… but not too much, eh Quint?] and confidence. He assures Giles that Buffy will be a stronger Slayer on the other side of this test.

He’s escorted out with Quentin telling him that if Buffy is everything that he’s told the Council she is, then he has nothing to worry about. Just after Rupert leaves the thing in the box starts screaming and yelling and Travers tells Hobson to take care of “it”.

Scene 13: We find out that the crate contains a vampire. One who is every bit as damaged as Drusilla. In addition, this vampire is addicted to the medication he’d been on when the person he was got turned. This is what he’s screeching for now, convinced that he needs to take them regularly or suffer horrible pain. The Council has had the wisdom to keep Kralik in a restrictive straitjacket and with a leather strap across his head to keep him under control. Now, whether the vampire actually physically needs his pills or if it’s all psychosomatic, we’ll not discover. I tend to head-canon that it’s psychosomatic, especially with the way he calms down right after he takes them long before they could actually make it into his system, but it’s left as a judgment call for the fans.

But one must wonder if a drug dependent vampire is being seen as a ‘fair test’ to the Slayer since it’s not at full strength itself?

Scene 14: That evening in the library, Xan and Willow are looking through the books for anything to explain why Buffy’s powers have waned [It’s nice that the makeup people kept track of that bruise on Buffy’s collar bone … I wonder if all of the scenes with this top on were filmed at once to make sure it didn’t “disappear” and mess up continuity.], but are coming up a bust [It is amusing though that Willow finds a curse that is specifically against lawyers].

Oz and Xan get briefly side tracked about Kryptonite and it’s various colors’ effects on Superman, but Buffy shows little patience.

Scene 15: Buffy wanders up into the book stacks, where Wills follows to give her a good dose of confidence and support that they’ll definitely find a way to get her powers back. But… what if they don’t?

Buffy takes a breath and considers not being the Slayer anymore. Buffy tells Willow that if she doesn’t, then she doesn’t. She can deal with it, and there are good sides to not running around facing monsters anymore.

But when Giles comes in, Buffy nearly trips over herself to ask him if he’s found anything.

Scene 16: Back at the abandoned Sunnydale Arms, Hobson comes into the makeshift bedroom to sack out, waking Blair for his turn at watch. One assumes that Quentin Travers is staying in whatever passes for a luxury hotel in Sunnydale.

Kralik the vampire beings howling again for his medication.

Scene 17: Blair [Reed] opens Kralik’s crate to find the vampire distressed and begging for his pills. As he rushes to the kitchen to get a glass of water, we see Kralik struggle and stretch and begin tearing loose of the straitjacket binding him.

Kralik then draws Malcolm Reed’s ancestor too close, mostly because he’s stupid and doesn’t follow Council protocol, and it’s goodbye Blair.

Scene 18: With Buffy, she’s left the fruitless search at the library to be consoled by Angel. He gives her a book of poetry for her eighteenth, but she’s too worried about what all of this ‘no powers’ thing means. She admits to her fear that she can’t function anymore as a regular person, knowing what she knows is out there in the dark.

Buffy also worries that she’ll lose who she’s become as a person and return to her vapid, shallow ways, like a certain someone who remains nameless but rhymes with ‘Spordelia’.

Angel tells Buffy that he knew what she was before and admits to her that he saw her before she was called [as revealed in Becoming]. He tells her that even then he loved her. [The music assures us this is sweet and romantic, rather than stalkerish and creeptastic. Okay.]

Angel goes on a “I saw your heart and it was…”  [blah, blah, whatever… god, instant-blind-love just gives me the creepers].

It ends with Buffy telling him that his spiel was beautiful… but after a beat says or it’s incredibly gross. Angel admits he was just thinking the same thing and probably wishing he’d put his love sonnet a little differently.

Scene 19: Back with Kralik, he’s licking his fingers and waiting for Blair to wake up. While Kralik is crazy-humming and complaining about the tune in his head that won’t stop repeating [Jeez-- tell me about it..!] Blair gets to freeing him from his captivity.

He suggests then that Blair call his friend Hobson, and they’ll discuss the game they’re in over dinner….

Commentary: Yikes. First, I’m impressed with Jeff Kober for being able to deliver his dialog with minimal lisping, and drinking water! Very nice.

But, and another yikes!, Blair’s fangs are HORRIBLE. Poor Dominic Keating -- it’s a good thing he was short-shrifted on the dialog because his ‘teeth’ look way too big for his pinched mouth.

I also though want to take an opportunity here to say that Jeff does a great job with Kralik. The man is seriously creepy and obliterates my until-now lingering crush on him from when he was Dodger on ‘China Beach’.

Scene 20: Later that night, Rupert has dropped by the Sunnydale Arms again, still struggling with his role in Buffy’s turmoil. He’s immediately bothered by how quiet the place is.

Despite something being clearly wrong, Rupert wanders around. And shouts, “Hello? Quentin?”

At least until his hand runs across a banister that is soaked with blood. Giles rushes - not for the door, of course - but for a makeshift stake. With a look of determination and a bit of anger, he begins to stalk for the vampire. Rupert goes to the crate and yanks it open, only to find it empty of course.

 He follows the smear of blood down the hallway. When he flips on the light, he sees something so horrible that his breath is taken away. All we see is an arm, but there is blood all over the room. And whatever Kralik and the new, unimproved Blair did to Hobson, it was enough to make Giles wretch and barely hold onto his dinner.

He even manages to drop his makeshift stake from the horror of it all!

Commentary: I have to give some props here to the episode’s behind-the-scenes guys. Despite being a horror show at heart, BTVS very rarely goes into grue territory or even really heavy-duty graphic horror -- obvs a lot of this is due to being a television show on the WB, but for the most part even the deaths that we see a lot of aren’t graphic in their gruesomeness. So when I saw the blood on the table next to Hobson’s body my first thought was, “Why would there be blood like that when the vampires would’ve eaten him?? C’mon guys…” but then I started noticing the walls!

Oh! Oh, crap. And then when Giles was actually forced to retreat and trying not to vomit, it became obvious that this wasn’t just a vampire feeding. Hobson’s end, I’m afraid, was quite horrific… and having taken place in the kitchen where the implements are… *shiver*.

And later Kralik gives us a clue about what happened to Hobson when he tells Joyce what Buffy will do to her after he turns her daughter. It’s horrific.

Having Rupert Giles drop his stake was a bit much though.

Scene 21: Outdoors walking home, Buffy is looking all small and vulnerable [AND ANGEL LET HER GO ALONE?? Even knowing she’s powerless, now? Hmm. I’m gonna fudge a little and say that Buffy argued him out of it because she wanted to stand on her own, and not feel a stereotypically helpless girl].

She passes by some guys who make gross remarks at her. Buffy hesitates, but she’s not able to punch Mr. Sleeze right now -- something that obvs has her feeling very depressed and frightened.

Buffy passes around the corner from them, leaving them laughing at her, when she hears a hummer somewhere nearby, which only creeps her out more. She keeps looking back, thinking that Mr. Sleezy and Friend are following her.

But we know that voice, already. It’s much worse than some guys asking random high school girls for lap dances -- repulsive as that is. She turns and walks right into the waiting Kralik and his vamp-face.

Buffy yanks free by leaving her coat in Kralik’s hand and dodging around Blair, though it seems pretty obvious that they’re just playing with her.

Scene 22: Screaming for help in a town where there isn’t any, through what looks like a dark alley to boot, Buffy is caught playing the very kind of victim that she was designed to subvert.

She reaches a dead end blocked by a fence, and finds herself too weak to even climb it.

Beginning to crawl through a tear in it, she’s grabbed by her legs by the pursuing [and still dialogless] Blair. She only just manages to break free long enough to get to back to the road.

But as she’s screaming for somebody to stop and help her, Sunnydale’s drivers just swing around her, unwilling to stop and help a young lady in trouble [but y’know… Sunnydale… I’m surprised anybody actually tries to live there].

With Blair making his way over the fence now, Giles comes racing up in his beater-mobile. He tells Buffy to get in, and though she does, Blair hangs onto the car and tries to yank her out.

It’s a close escape, and as Giles and Buffy race away, we see Kralik holding Buffy’s coat and staring after her.

Scene 23: Later in the library, Buffy is crying that when she hit Kralik it felt like her arm broke. She tearfully tells Giles that she can’t be just a person. Rupert has his briefcase set on the table in front of her and as she sobs, he pulls out the case o’ dosing.

Brokenly, he tells Buffy about the drugs he’s been giving her, assuring her that she’ll be back to her old self in a few days, while she stares in disbelief at the syringe and cocktail vial.

Rupert then goes on to tell her about the conditions of the testing that she’s been unknowingly being prepared for. He then tells Buffy that the vampire she was to face for the test is a former serial killer who was placed in an asylum until his escape [and turning].

Buffy cuts him off by throwing the box at him and calling him a bastard for this betrayal, for watching what it was doing to her and not stopping. He goes on to tell her that his role in this was very plain and that he had to follow Council protocol, which was that the test couldn’t be known by her beforehand.

You can imagine Buffy’s not heartened by any of this explanation. [Oh, my god… this is such a tough scene. I hate Giles right now. I loathe the Council. And I’m just heartbroken for Buffy… how do they go on (as they must, the show isn’t cancelled and ASH isn’t going anywhere yet) after this kind of backstabbing?! I just… I can’t even with this….]

Buffy ends up tearfully asking him who he even is, as everything she thought she knew about her Watcher is dashed in minutes.

Giles begs Buffy to listen to him, and tells her that since he’s now told her everything the test is invalidated. He promises that she’ll be safe now until her powers return and he’ll find a way to deal with the Kralik issue. He also says he’ll do anything to win back her trust, but Buffy just stares at him, still crying, and points out harshly that he poisoned her.

They stare at each other, both in horrible pain.

Commentary: OH. Y’know, if you’re going to be a Buffy fan you’ve gotta get used to hating on our characters at times. You also have to get used to the fact that Joss and Crew like to hurt you. But THIS SCENE. Ugh. I just can’t.

SMG and ASH are FANTASTIC throughout this confrontation. And as you can see by the lengthy scene description, they’re both given the time that they need to establish the mood and the connection between them as actors that was absolutely necessary to pull us in, because by this point, we know what Giles did and why. We know everything that Buffy doesn’t and in the hands of less accomplished actors, or if the scene was rushed, this could’ve come across as “Yeah, yeah, we’re already there Buffy … let’s move on”, but instead you’ll find yourself utterly engrossed in that horror Buffy is feeling and the devastating guilt Rupert is going through. Just ACES, guys.

Where the hell is the Emmy nom?

Scene 24: The god awfulness is broken by Cordelia, who has come in for some books for a report that she’s got due. She recognizes immediately that something is going on, but takes it as another apocalypse on the rise to interfere with her recovering social life.

Buffy goes to walk out, but Giles reminds her she can’t walk home as it’s not safe. Buffy quietly tells him that she doesn’t know him.

Cordy takes this to mean that Buffy got a bit of amnesia from some Slayer business and tries to help, but Buffy just tearfully asks her for a ride home without going into explanations. Cordy is taken aback, but says of course.

Commentary: Argh. I hate having Cordy shoehorned into this scene. I mean, I don’t resent it because we had to get out of this scene to get on with the plot somehow, but I always find myself really regretting Charisma busting up this powerful moment with Cordy’s clueless blathering.

Scene 25: Meanwhile, at the Summers’, Joyce is making out checks for bills. She hears a creaking of the porch and goes to investigate, puzzled.

What she finds is Buffy lying on the porch unresponsive covered in her bright red coat. Of course, I guess that should be ‘Buffy’ since it’s obvs Kralik, who turns over with a not funny grin and calls her Mother.

Scene 26: Now home, Buffy comes in the kitchen side door. She spots the flowers and deflated balloon from her dad on the counter and angrily sweeps them into the trashcan. She’s brought up short as she starts for the living room on seeing the front door wide open. On the threshold is an instamatic picture… and of course, it’s of Joyce looking terrified. Kralik is holding Joyce by her neck and grinning widely all fangly.

On the back in silver pen is written “Come”.

Scene 27: We timeskip to Buffy in her room throwing all the supplies she barely ever uses into a carry bag to go after her mother. But first, she took time to change her clothes because you can’t go after a vampire who has your mother hostage while you're missing your Slayer powers without throwing on the Dungarees of Emotional Pain!

[I mean obvs, guys! What did you want her to do, rush out into the night - grab Angel for backup and make a bee-line directly for the Sunnydale Arms?? That, my good sir/miss, is why you’re an amateur.]

We get a special focus on the vial of Holy Water that she never uses, so we know it’ll actually come into play for a change.

[It would’ve been funny if we saw Buffy struggling to carry all of that crap with her non-Slayer strength and then heard a brief yell followed by the sounds of her tumbling down the stairs.]

Scene 28: At the Arms, Kralik teases Joyce but taking more photos of her while she’s tied and gagged. While he’s enjoying Joyce’s obvious distress, he babbles on about his own mother -- apparently the cause of his turning serial killer prior to vampire. And his demonic self has carried over his extreme hatred for the woman and by extension all matronly women.

It’s very clear the bitch tortured her own son, and rather brutally for who knows how long until he finally killed her and ate her. [Okay, maybe the eating her part went a little far since presumably he was still human at the time.]

Kralik babbles about his not being alone for much longer. He tells Joyce that he’ll have her daughter, and he’s going to make her like him. And then Buffy’s going to eat her face right off of her as her first meal!

Commentary: See, this script is really dark which is unusual for this early in the series. You’d expect this on UPN, but not the WB. But Jeff Kober is again pretty fantastic with this scene, chewing the scenery but not going overboard and making all of this cartoonish. Instead it really is just as disturbing as it should be.

And nice freaking dialog, David Fury. What is wrong inside of your head?

Scene 29: Upstairs from Joyce and Kralik, Buffy quietly creeps into the Arms. She puts a stake between the door and the jamb to hold it open so she isn’t locked in.

Buffy wanders into the living room, and leaves her bag on the sofa in front of the low fire in the fireplace, while she continues to creep deeper into the house with her crossbow.

Scene 30: As Buffy is beginning to open doors, at the front, we see Blair’s hand remove the stake that is holding the front door. She’s now truly screwed. And so is Joyce.

[“Hey Angel, my mom’s in trouble and without my Slayer skills, I could really use your strength and speed!” was just too much effort, huh?]

Scene 31: In the library, Giles is on the phone listening to it ring. Behind him, we see creeping in… Mr. Travers [read that with a sneer of disgust, please].  On seeing him, Rupert says he was just trying to reach him. Travers tells him he was keeping an eye on the boarding house, which allows Giles to snit that his perfectly controlled test seems to have spun impressively out of control. Travers, of course, isn’t at all bothered if the details don’t go exactly to plan, so long as the basic goal is reached.

Giles tells him about informing Buffy of everything and arrogantly tells him that there will be no testing of his Slayer. But Travers must inform Rupert that the test has already begun and Buffy is where she needs to be to pass or fail it.

Rupert goes to rush to her aid. Travers tells him it isn’t their business to intervene, but Rupert roughs him up a bit and rushes out to get help to Buffy. Travers is left with a tea cup in hand and looking disapproving and disappointed.

Commentary: I liked this scene just because of Harris Yulin’s cool, collected demeanor. I kinda want to punch Travers in the face [okay, there isn’t any ‘kinda’ about it], but I have to admire his not getting ruffled over two Council drones getting themselves killed, and having Buffy’s test suddenly include an extra vampire.

I just like the way that he informs Rupert that the Slayer has reached “the field of play” already.

Scene 32: At the arms, Buffy returns to the living room to find the front door locked.

As Buffy is at the front door she hears Blair growl behind her. She spins and fires her crossbolt, but it goes way wide. Blair grabs her under the face and yanks her at himself, where Buffy proceeds to stomp on his toes to break away.

Blair is quickly behind her, and Buffy ends up pushing a book case on top of him. She grabs a heavy something or other [It’s dark -- a poker? A knicknack? A chunk of firewood?] and pummels him in the head until he’s unconscious. For some reason she doesn’t stake him while he’s out.

Instead she grabs up her bag and rushes through the house. From the darkness, she hears creepy chanting about seeing her. And playing Hide & Seek.

From the dark, Kralik steps out and grabs Buffy by the throat. He starts quoting the Big Bad Wolf at her and asking about what treats she’s brought him in her big bag. Just as he leans in to bite her, Buffy pulls out a crucifix to ward him off. But instead of shying away from the hurtful symbol, he grabs her arm and directs the cross down his crotch area, acting very sexually gratified even as his skin starts sizzling.

Buffy gets “Oh, God, Gross!” face.

Scene 33: Buffy rushes off again and this time finds herself in the kitchen, where Hobson… or what’s left of him, remains. He’s sitting at the table… I may have suggested he was lying on the table earlier because all we saw was his arm stretched out. But he’s sitting. Uh… maybe that wasn’t really an important detail at this point….

So, Kralik bangs at the kitchen door as Buffy looks wildly about for a weapon now that she’s lost her bag, her crossbow and her cross. As she’s going through empty drawers, the banging on the door just as suddenly stops, putting her in a worse place since now she doesn’t know where he is.

Buffy creeps her way back out of the death kitchen.

Scene 34: Buffy runs to the stairs and starts rushing up them, but from below her, Kralik punches through the railing to grab at her legs and trip her up. She hits her head painfully on a step and then starts being dragged down over them.

She kicks free and using a bit of broken rail, starts trying to stab Kralik’s hands. It gives her time to regain her feet and she makes a mad dash for the top of the stairs.

Kralik chases.

Scene 35: In the hallway upstairs, Buffy looks for an exit but only finds a row of room doors [as you’d expect from a boarding house]. She rushes along and finds a door unlocked. She rushes in and shuts the door leaving her in total blackness, but before we lose sight, we see that the walls have been papered in instamatic photographs… hmm, almost as if Kralik left this particular door unlocked.

Scene 36: Buffy feels around in the total blackness before finding a light cord, and the room brights up so she can gaze on the fright that his Kralik’s obsession with taking pictures of her mother bound, gagged and helpless.

She’s left to whimper….

Commentary: I really think that this episode comes the closest to a real horror movie. The camera work, the dark lighting, Buffy unable to so much as attempt to quip… it’s all so much more harrowing than a typical BTVS episode. They really did a fantastic job in making Buffy look and ‘feel’ like the blonde girl who’s going to be the serial killer’s next victim -- and this scene is just harrowing, as Buffy - I think for the first time since this started - suddenly understands that Kralik isn’t just a vampire, but is crazy and ergo unpredictable. This may also be Buffy’s first emotionally realization just how much danger Joyce is really in this time without Buffy’s Chosen status powers for her to rely on.

You also just got to feel for Buffy… it’s been an adrenaline ride of terror since she first found the photo at the house, and she hasn’t been given a quiet moment to regroup or think. Kralik or Blair have been on her since she entered.

Scene 37: But every horror must end for something worse, so the vampire once again starts banging on a door. This time, punching through it. Fortunately for Buffy there is a second door in this particular room, no doubt exactly as Kralik wished to play cat and mouse with her.

Buffy runs back into a hallway [Okay, no. That door thing would’ve worked if it was a double-adjoining room, but what kind of room at a boarding house would have two doors, both leading to a hallway… uh, uh… that was clumsy of the set guy/gals]. But alas, Kralik steps out in front of her, and this time she has no weaponry! YIKES!

He snatches up Buffy and though she tries to fight him off, he leans into her neck casually and promises her that he won’t take it all. Just when Buffy looks really, really doomed. Kralik stumbles back, grabbing his head in pain. He starts frantically searching for his pills with agony playing across his face.

Buffy snatches the pill body from his shaking hands, and leaves him shouting after her in a panic as she races off down the hallway. She finds a laundry chute, and leaps into it for a ride down to the basement.

Commentary: This. This is the only part of the episode that really yanked me out of the plot because it’s just so frickin’ too convenient as to be ridiculous. I mean I can’t even paper over the Hero Battle Death Exemption here. The Council chooses a vampire with a particular disability the Slayer may be able to exploit, I can absolutely buy. If this test really is about teaching the young lady that she needs her brain and wits to survive, rather than growing dependent on blindly hitting things until they fall down, then I can see this development.

But to have that disability require medication that apparently turns on and off on the second is just too stupid. And the fact that it juuuuust manages to do so riiiiiight as Kralik has stopped playing and is going for the sloooooow bite, JUST NO TO THE SCRIPTING.

Crap. I was so into the whole ambiance and the tension and everything, too. But now the mood has been snapped because of this utterly stupid excuse to get Buffy free from certain death. And this time, I refuse to say “the Powers That Be intervened” because even they wouldn’t be this blatant about bad scripting.

Scene 38: So… *sigh* … Buffy manages a bit of unbelievably convenient luck and rushes down a laundry chute with Kralik’s pill bottle, leaving the vampire howling in pain behind her.

In the basement, she finds Joyce, still bound to the chair. As she struggles to get the ropes around Joyce’s arm free, Kralik arrives at the top of the basement stairs. He pounds and smashes through the door [Okay, there is no way that door was locked unless Blair or he tied up Joyce, locked the basement door after hauling her in there, and then climbed up the laundry chute for no reason. But, unlike the hall scene, I can paper over that Kralik didn’t just use the door knob because he’s pissed now, and wanted to make a show of strength at Buffy].

He comes barreling down the stairs demanding that his pills be returned to him.

Scene 39: Buffy tries to rush around him to the stairs, but Kralik grabs her, slams her into a wall and takes his pill bottle from her. He rushes across the room, where he’s left a convenient glass of water for just such an emergency [Uhm. It was for Joyce to help keep her comfortable until he’s ready for Buffy to eat her face off].

After he gets the pills down, he starts to Evil Guy snark at Buffy [see, the need for these pills MUST be mostly psychosomatic… it just has to be…]. But then he gets a sudden look of shock, which very quickly turns to discomfort and then agony.

Buffy pulls out her empty bottle of Holy Water with an exhausted smirk at him. She tells him just before he ashes away that if she was at full Slayer power, she’d pun right about now.

Commentary: Now, THIS I do love. I really like how in the end it’s Buffy’s human wits and not her Slayer powers that defeat the bad guy. She doesn’t NEED strength and speed to beat the vampires, she just needs to keep her mind working and to rely on her cleverness. Which is actually what the Cruciamentum is supposed to be pointing out.

No, I don’t believe it’s all “for the Slayer’s benefit” on the Council’s behalf at all. I’ve always felt that it’s also become a subtle threat. The Slayer is becoming an adult and like any adults she’s going to want to make her own decisions and have her own life. I believe that the Council, by practicing this hideous exercise, is really telling the Slayer “Remember this young lady… no matter how adult you think you are, The Council can strip those powers from you at our leisure. Mind your place, and follow orders or we’ll replace you.”

I think this is just as much an exercise in psychological manipulation against the Slayer [and through the centuries, I could buy that it’s become the primary motivation of continuing the ritual this long] as it is in reminding her for her own good that she can’t only rely on her physical gifts.

Scene 40: With Kralik dead and Blair a no-show still [Look we know he didn’t dust, but she could’ve beaten his brains in sufficiently to keep him inactive for a long while to come], Buffy turns back to freeing her mother. To both of their chagrin though, she finds that her girly fingers without Slayer backing can’t get the ropes freed.

Oh WAIT --- BLAIR makes a sudden return, attacking Buffy from behind! [Hey a dropped plot point wasn’t dropped after all… yay Script!]

But before Buffy can try to fight him off long enough to find another improvised weapon, Blair finds himself shoved across the room into a shelf and quickly gets a few pummels before being staked. It’s Giles, of course, a little late to the general party but just in the knick of time for the clean up.

He and Buffy share uncomfortable stares across the basement floor.

Scene 41: Some short time later, Quentin is congratulating Buffy [is that mild disappointment I hear] on passing her exam. Buffy is, as one might expect, not exactly brimming with pride or joy.

Buffy and Quentin trade barbs, as Travers tells her that they can’t worry about fair or just when they’re fighting a war. Rupert intervenes to tell him The Council is waging a war, Buffy is the one who’s fighting it. Which Travers acknowledges. Rupert tells Quentin that the test is completed, implying he can be on his way.

But Travers informs Giles that Buffy isn’t the only one who was being tested. Rupert, as her Watcher, was also being evaluated. And he’s failed in his role due to his father-like concern over his charge. Effective immediately, he is fired from his position!

Travers isn’t shocked when Rupert tells him that he’s not going anywhere, but does tell him that when the new Watcher arrives to take over, any interference from him at all will be dealt with most harshly.

Quentin leaves with another unappreciated congratulations and Rupert and Buffy are left to wonder how they can go forward after his “betrayal”. Since she allows him to daub her head wound though, it looks like somehow she’ll be able to forgive him since he did get fired over ultimately helping her.

Scene 42: The following day, Xan, Willow and Oz are with Buffy and Joyce in the kitchen making sandwiches. Willow is trying to understand how Giles could be fired. Oz asks Buffy how she stopped Kralik and Joyce very proudly exclaims how Buffy was very clever.

Buffy takes the peanut butter jar, but can’t get it open. Xan machos that sometimes a man is needed, that’s all. He also, of course, can’t get the lid unstuck.

The Good: Anthony Stewart Head and Sarah Michelle Gellar do some absolutely stellar acting work in this one. Both deserve a special kudo... so ... uh, yeah. Here it is. Great work, Guys!

I also loved Buffy's near death by staking in the first vampire fight. It was actually scary, despite her Hero Exemption status.

I liked how at first you're led to think that Giles is acting OOC over this whole Buffy's powers waning thing, only for that gut punch of finding out he is - not because of scripting issues - but because he's the one taking her powers away!

Jeff Kober is also excellent throughout as Kralik, especially in his non-howling scenes. He's all kinds of fun as a sleazy, half-crazed monster. Especially that scene with the wood cross and his tossing out to Buffy "Thank you very much" after he's burned where his penis should've been [it's implied his mother took sissors to it when he was a boy].

I also really like the whole ambiance and atmosphere of this episode. It was much darker, scary and genuinely threatening that the typical Buffy episode. Which was perfect for Buffy having to face a threat without being the Slayer.

I love in the end that Buffy saves herself with her brains, not her brawn.

I liked the surprise of finding out that Rupert was also being tested and his firing.

The Bad: The scene with the Jerk Jock and Cordy was really overdone. He came across as way too much like Pete than should have been allowed for the scene. I didn't like watching it at all.

I'm okay with whole "is Kralik physically needy of his meds, even though he's a vampire or is this all in his mind" squishiness. But that scene in the hallway where he utterly conveniently falls apart for his pill at just the right time to let Buffy escape was just horrible scripting.

Dominic Keating's fang face is awful. Those teeth did not fit his mouth at all.

Other Thoughts: Y'know, I love David and Sarah's chemistry and their work opposite one another but putting them into situation where Buffy and Angel are practically driving themselves to have sex when they [ignoring the logic problems that I've complained about before] can't have is just... irritating. STOP TEASING THE CHARACTERS and bugging us -- it's over. Okay, so why isn't it in the bad then? Because of that chemistry between SMG and DB. They were rocking that opening scene acting wise for all it was worth.

I really find it to be a missed opportunity that once Faith is addressed as being currently on a walkabout, that she's never brought up again despite still being a Slayer while Buffy's powers are fading away. And it would've been nice if she'd been brought in at the end of the episode to address her own Cruciamentum... either that she'd been put through it herself, or that she was extra freaked about he thought that they'd do that to her [and thereby putting some more extra distrust against Giles and upcoming Wesley that would be perfect for Faith's arc].

I'm forgiving because the plot needs it, but it does really bug me that Buffy goes off unpowered to deal with rescuing her mother, rather than calling the Scoobies... especially going to Angel for backup. It doesn't really make sense, no matter how afraid Buffy might be for what is happening to Joyce at the moment.

There is also a very minor issue of Buffy's pursuit through the 'Arms'. The set itself is really small, so she seems to be running back and forth through the same room several times, and Kralik leaves her to herself a bit much without it being explicitly deliberate to play with her when he really should be right on her heels in several instances. And while I did enjoy the unusually dark and dismal setting, some of the scenes really were a bit too dark on film.

The Score: A good, creepy and dark episode that could've used a bit more tweaking but there is some excellent dialog and amazing performances to get us over the rough scripting patches.

3.75 out of 5 stars

Tags: buffy season 3 reviews

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